Huddle rooms have become quiet islands amid the noise of the open plan office ocean.
More than 70% of offices are currently operating with an open plan, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that working without walls is not good for employees or organizations.
As an aside, I’m not going to doubt that research, but even so high a percentage actually feels low. When was the last time you were on a floor where everyone had their own office, or even their own cubicle?
Anyhow, it’s been proved that you are about one-third as productive when working in shared spaces compared to working in a quiet room.
In the face of that practical reality businesses are creating smaller enclosed spaces where employees can gather and get some thinking done, or where they can make group–or individual–video conference calls without the interruptions and noise of the office at large.
It’s a development that’s encouraging video conferencing vendors like StarLeaf to scale down their offerings and chase the huddle market. The question is, have they gone small enough?
Video Conferencing for Huddle Rooms
The market for video conferencing equipment tailored to these smaller rooms is unusually large. It’s been estimated that 97% of meeting rooms are not VC equipped.
But then, meeting rooms have never been put to as many uses as they are today, nor have they been deployed within so dynamic a workforce.
In addition to offering privacy and a little serenity, meeting rooms are often used as floating desks for traveling and partially remote employees. The traditional approach of sectioning off a large part of the rented space to house a conference table big enough for an entire floor of employees to gather around, or for the sheer impression it makes on external guests, just doesn’t work under all those demands.
Instead, a middle ground has been forged where such spaces are effectively carved into smaller, more flexible spaces and turned over to a variety of high-use purposes.
This in turn means the VC equipment that’s going into these smaller spaces must be both compact and versatile. It needs to be relatively small and compact to suit the space, but also powerful enough to let half a dozen people quickly make a video call to the outside world.
That’s the challenge StarLeaf and its peers are facing.
StarLeaf Shrinks Down Boardroom VC
StarLeaf already had a range of VC options before it announced the arrival of the GTm 5140 huddle room system in June. In fact, it already had a larger version of this same Skype for Business native setup.
What the 5140 did was shrink down the larger 5250 version by removing the support for multiple panning and zooming cameras, and for multiple screens, among other items.
The result is a much smaller console–more like the modem that supplies broadband to your house, and less like the fuse box that supplies electricity–and a streamlined setup.
It still comes directly linked to the Skype for Business servers, and still features a touchscreen controller like its big brother, but now the included camera and microphone attach via USB.
And the instant call access that direct-to-Skype feature provides means it’s easier to begin and join meetings, catering to the multipurpose huddle rooms of now.
But the 5140 is not alone in the huddle space.
A Crowded Huddle Room
Polycom, Cisco and Logitech have all put forward huddle room specific VC setups over the past few years.
The Cisco SX series and Polycom’s RealPresence follow the StarLeaf pattern of scaling down large conference room technology for use in huddle rooms. As with StarLeaf, it’s achieved by reducing options and removing peripherals, however, neither has taken it to the extreme of actually producing a smaller hub. Nor does either service provide the Skype for Business native function and the touch screen startup StarLeaf includes.
Microsoft’s newly announced Skype Room System does, however, provide that same direct Skype for Business connection, and it uses a SmartDock system that parallels the 5140’s touch screen access and quick start-up.
Unfortunately for StarLeaf, the Skype Room System retails for a fraction of the 5140’s price tag–or those of the Cisco and Polycom offerings for that matter.
And one of Microsoft’s partners in the Skype room business, Logitech, has taken the shrink-to-huddle mantra even further by producing the all-in-one Connect. The cylindrical, mobile unit lives down on the SmartDock price level, and comes with a plug-and-play functionality that suits the ‘any room, anytime’ ethos of huddle thinking.
In an increasingly crowded huddle room market, it may be the purpose-built, carry-it-with-you concept of the Connect that ultimately wins out over the repurposed, scaled down systems of StarLeaf and its peers.